Leading Science journalist: Yeah, Covid was developed in a lab

Nicholas Wade, if you have never heard of him, is not just some random journalist. For 30 years, he was the Science Editor at the New York Times. Before that, he was Editor of Science, one of the most important Scientific journals in the world. So, when he publishes an exhaustive argument setting out the reasons for his belief that Covid 19 was developed in, and escaped from, a laboratory in Wuhan, China, it’s worth taking notice.

The whole thing, on Medium, will take you 43 minutes to read. If you have that kind of time, you absolutely should read it. If you don’t, then let me summarise the case he makes, much more briefly.

At the core of his case are three points, related to geography, virology, and science.

First, he notes that the laboratory in Wuhan was engaged in a US-funded project that involved so-called “gain of function” experiments on Coronaviruses.

What is a “gain of function” experiment? Well, basically, it is research to see how you can take an existing virus, and make it more transmissible, or more deadly. It is exactly what it sounds like. Wade notes that this field of science has been controversial for years.

To be clear: The purpose of “gain of function” experiments is not to create weapons. The whole point is to study how viruses could become more dangerous over time naturally, by stimulating and simulating their evolution in laboratory conditions. But as Wade notes:

Virologists knew better than anyone the dangers of gain-of-function research. But the power to create new viruses, and the research funding obtainable by doing so, was too tempting. They pushed ahead with gain-of-function experiments. They lobbied against the moratorium imposed on Federal funding for gain-of-function research in 2014 and it was raised in 2017.

The benefits of the research in preventing future epidemics have so far been nil, the risks vast. If research on the SARS1 and MERS viruses could only be done at the BSL3 safety level, it was surely illogical to allow any work with novel coronaviruses at the lesser level of BSL2. Whether or not SARS2 escaped from a lab, virologists around the world have been playing with fire…..

…..Researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, led by China’s leading expert on bat viruses, Dr. Shi Zheng-li or “Bat Lady”, mounted frequent expeditions to the bat-infested caves of Yunnan in southern China and collected around a hundred different bat coronaviruses.

Dr. Shi then teamed up with Ralph S. Baric, an eminent coronavirus researcher at the University of North Carolina. Their work focused on enhancing the ability of bat viruses to attack humans so as to “examine the emergence potential (that is, the potential to infect humans) of circulating bat CoVs [coronaviruses].” In pursuit of this aim, in November 2015 they created a novel virus by taking the backbone of the SARS1 virus and replacing its spike protein with one from a bat virus (known as SHC014-CoV).

So that’s argument number one, in a nutshell: In Wuhan, they were specifically conducting work to make bat viruses more transmissible to humans. What a coincidence, then, he says, that a virus originating in bats, and transmitting to humans, then showed up in Wuhan.

The second point is geographical: As noted in bold in the excerpt above, the Bats that generally carry Coronaviruses do not live in Wuhan. They live in Yunnan, in South China. In fact, this Dr. Shi person travelled frequently to Southern China to collect bats, to study their viruses.

Dr. Shi’s research records have been sealed by the Chinese Government.

What hasn’t been sealed, though, as Wade points out, is the funding application she made to the American Government for her work. And that funding application states, according to Wade:

What this means, in non-technical language, is that Dr. Shi set out to create novel coronaviruses with the highest possible infectivity for human cells.

So, there you have it. Right where Covid 19 started, we had a scientist who was working to create coronaviruses with the highest possible infectivity.

The third point is this, Wade says: The evidence that the Wuhan lab simply was not secure. He offers this, by way of evidence:

The Wuhan Institute of Virology had a new BSL4 lab, but its state of readiness considerably alarmed the State Department inspectors who visited it from the Beijing embassy in 2018. “The new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” the inspectors wrote in a cable of 19 January 2018.

The real problem, however, was not the unsafe state of the Wuhan BSL4 lab but the fact that virologists worldwide don’t like working in BSL4 conditions. You have to wear a space suit, do operations in closed cabinets and accept that everything will take twice as long. So the rules assigning each kind of virus to a given safety level were laxer than some might think was prudent.

There is much more to his theory that that, of course, but those are the key points. He also examines, in detail, the other (vastly more popular) theory: That the virus jumped directly from bat to human, and he finds it lacking.

If you are interested in the origin of Covid 19, the whole thing is an absolute must-read. It is a remarkably convincing piece of work.

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